(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, August 29, 2011

August singles

This month's singles cover some bigger named artists that I have a lot of respect for. Three very different musical directions, but all are quite talented entertainers.

Jonathan Coulton - Nemeses (Artificial Heart, due out Fall 2011)

Jonathan Coulton
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Jonathan Coulton has built an impressive following with his quirky takes on mad scientists, zombie office workers, and code monkeys. As a strong proponent of Creative Commons licensing, he has shared his way into his audience's heart. Most of his music is fundamentally simple: a man with a guitar (and perhaps a backing vocal or two). His tours, occasionally with musical comedians Paul and Storm, have emphasized that simple, direct style.

The new album promises some changes: guest vocalists, including Suzanne Vega, and a backing band. The first taste, Nemeses, premiered on Paste Magazine. Coulton is backed by a band and hands the lead vocal to John Roederick (The Long Winters). It's a surprising setp, but Coulton has reassured his fans that we'll get to hear plenty of his voice on the album.

It's also strange hearing his guitar slip into the full sounding pop arrangement. But the writing comes through and Coulton still hits his target zone where wistful melodies blend with odd perspectives. In Nemeses, the main character posits that his existence is based on his role as another man's nemesis. It's funny, touching, and a bit sad...it's Jonathan Coulton.

Pajama Club - These Are Conditions (Pajama Club, due out in September)

Neil Finn's Pajama Club

Pajama Club is Neil Finn's latest band vehicle. These Are Conditions shows off Finn's pop sensibility, recalling his time with Split Enz more than his work with Crowded House. The tightly restrained funk riff also owes a debt to Split Enz contemporaries, The Fixx. Finn updates the groove with some modern elements and adds a touch of club to the new wave vibe.

Pajama Club also includes Finn's wife, Sharon Finn, as well as songwriter Sean Donnely. Pajama Club's touring line up adds drummer Alana Skyring to fill out the sound. Drop by the band's website to get another Pajama Club track, From a Friend to a Friend. Keep an eye out for a Pajama Club album in September.

Tori Amos - Carry (from Night of the Hunters, due out September 20)

Tori Amos, Night of the Hunters

Tori Amos continues to extend her scope with her upcoming album, Night of the Hunters. Harking back to her classical roots, the Deutsche Grammophon project promises to be a modern song cycle, with inspiration from composers like Eric Satie and Frédéric Chopin. With orchestral backing and well known classical players, the albums seems like a challenge that her fans might find daunting.

But the first video, Carry, allays any fears. The organic, breathy flow of the song and Amos' expressive piano work put the song on familiar ground. Amos' lush voice yearns, but also comforts. The orchestral elements naturally complement the song, whether it's the string section lines or the touch of oboe. The mix is richer and more theatrical than pop but retains a song-like sense.

I'm looking forward to hearing more from Night of the Hunters.

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